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As a little girl in Iowa, I was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s biggest fan. I devoured her books; I nearly memorized every article I could find. Heavens, if Google had existed in 1990, I would have read every teensy bit it could have dredged up on Laura and her family. There was Pa and his twinkling eyes, Ma and her china shepherdess, Mr. Edwards and his unruly bachelor appearance. Even the color of Laura’s hair ribbons infiltrated my memory: I avoided wearing pink for years because I remembered that Mary, the blonde sister, wore the pink hair ribbons while Laura (brunette like me) looked better in the blue. And where else would I have learned the difference between a sleigh and a cutter, or what in the world a what-not was?
From the Ingalls and the Wilders, I also learned that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, grasshoppers will come and eat your crops. A creek will rise and threaten your dugout. A blizzard will come and exhaust every bit of fuel you can find. I learned that Nature has power, and all the optimism and determination in the world can’t stop her.
In college, I majored in history – not least because I learned to love stories of the past through “Little House” and other historical novels – and I read about floods, dust storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes. I read about how agriculture, economy, and domestic life were affected by natural disasters, and I read about how people recovered. Always, though with great scars, they recovered.
I’m holding onto that right now as I watch my hometown begin to scrape off the slime of the river. That river that powered the mills that built Cedar Rapids flowed through its streets into City Hall last week. I’m catching my breath each time i hear of another family left homeless, unable to imagine how it must feel to see your house standing but to know that you can’t go back inside or it just might crumble on top of you. I’m telling myself that people recover from disaster – history is full of recoveries – but I’m having trouble reconciling that with the moment of despair that must be hitting the farmers whose land looks more like misplanted rice paddies than those verdant cornfields that make all Iowans swell with silent pride.
Right now, the thing making me swell with pride is the quietly determined attitude of Midwesterners. With their hard work, recovery will come, slowly – that’s what happens after disaster. But in this moment, it’s still so very hard to see the deep hardship that has come to the place and people that I know.